Duolingo and Voto Latino call on U.S. elected officials to learn Spanish
The new campaign stresses the importance of using language to show better representation of communities in government.
The United States has the second highest concentration of Spanish speakers in the world, just behind Mexico. With 41 million native speakers and 11.6 million bilingual Spanish speakers, the country tops Spain and Colombia, and is expected to be the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world by the year 2050, according to a 2015 report by Instituto Cervantes.
Even so, Spanish speakers are not treated with respect on a collective scale in the country, nor are they catered to politically.
Nearly four in 10 Latino Americans report experiencing some form of harassment related to their ethnicity in the year 2018, according to a Pew Research Survey.
In the same year, The Guardian reported several incidents of targeted harassment faced by Latinos speaking Spanish in public places. In one of these instances, a New York attorney threatened to call ICE on two employees speaking Spanish to each other in a restaurant.
Before this year, native Puerto Rican residents that moved to Florida following Hurricane Maria, faced language barriers at every turn when it came time for them to cast their ballots. Now, 31 counties in the state will provide Spanish-language ballots and election materials.
Now, the focus is being turned on elected officials to get their Spanish up to par.
Duolingo, the world’s largest language learning app, is partnering with Voto Latino to call on elected politicians to learn Spanish to connect with their Spanish-speaking constituents.
As seen throughout the 2020 election cycle, several politicians realized the value in bilingual speeches and campaigns, so the partnership is in line with the trends.
Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott released a Spanish-language television commercial in 2014, telling eligible voters about his childhood rags-to-riches story and emphasizing the importance of jobs.
He openly admitted that his skills are far from perfect, but that he values the learning experience and being able to connect with the large Hispanic community of Florida.
In August 2018, the Senator took a few minutes to deliver a bilingual statement on Latin American policy in the backroom of Casa Cuba, a club for anti-Castro expatriates.
“Mi práctica en español todos los días es muy importante para mi,” he beamed.
When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was campaigning for his position, he attended a rally for striking workers at the Miami International Airport, and yelled “¡Hasta la victoria, siempre!” which means “until victory, always.”
De Blasio, completely unaware of the history behind the phrase, intended to contribute positively to the rally, but gravely miscalculated the impact of quoting Che Guevara in Miami, a city home to a large population of Cuban refugees who escaped the Marxist revolution.
“Hasta la victoria siempre...”
Says Bill De Blasio in Miami pic.twitter.com/fAc2Wds5YD
— liz roldan (@lizroldancbs4) June 27, 2019
While any sort of efforts on behalf of elected officials to adopt a second language and relate to constituents on a deeper level should be applauded, the steep learning curve has just begun.
Through the efforts of Duolingo and Voto Latino, they hope to hold officials accountable for the pledges they make during their campaigns, and encourage stronger communication between politicians and the people.
During the first joint session of the 117th U.S Congress, Duolingo and Voto Latino’s message was this:
“¡Hola, elected officials! Spanish is not just for the campaign trail. So keep learning.”
So far, the language learning app and the grassroots political organization have sent a letter to the four congressional campaign committee chairs offering members access to Duolingo’s language learning software, and launched their messages on social media. They also plastered their “¡Hola, elected officials!” on a double-decker bus wrap that will be circling Capitol Hill.
“As an immigrant to the US from a Spanish-speaking country myself, this also means a lot to me personally, and I hope our message can help build stronger bonds between voters and their elected officials,” said Luis von Ahn, CEO and co-founder of Duolingo.
For Voto Latino Communications Manager Danny Turkel, the message is about better representing everyone.
“In order to properly represent us and our communities, our representatives must understand how we talk about our hopes and obstacles on a daily basis. Learning a few lines of broken Spanish is not enough,” he said.
The United States does not have an official language, and Spanish is the second-most spoken language next to English. In 2021, it’s time for elected politicians to truly represent the people, and commit themselves to learning Spanish, and as a natural result, the diversity of Latino American culture.